Thursday, January 23, 2014

Immersion VS. Invasion. The Ecuador Expat's most important choice.

Immersion versus Invasion.  That is the question. 

Gringo Invasion
 Do you come to Ecuador and abandon all of your lifelong traditions and cultural understandings, living amongst the locals like you were born here?  Or, do you come to Ecuador and hide amongst your own in your gated expat community, slowly assimilating into "Gringolandia"?

Such an important and trivial question requires calculated thought.  This question often raises thousands of other questions like:

  • How fast can I learn Spanish in Ecuador?
  • How do I learn about Ecuadorian Culture?
  • Will I experience Culture Shock?
  • Will I pay Gringo Prices in Ecuador?
  • Ultimately, Will I be HAPPY in Ecuador?

I see this topic in discussion on many of the forums, groups, and chats associated with Living in Ecuador or Traveling to Ecuador, but often times I see more opinions than logical answers or even valuable opinionated insight.  People tend to want to live on one extreme or another.  Sounds a bit like politics doesn't it?

Some live for "total immersion", where they shun their entire culture and its existence, even developing a hatred for it.  Others live here for years and don't even take the time to learn how to say "Hola".  In my insightful opinion (at least I hope it is an insightful one) I believe both strategies ultimately lead to failure.

You see, No matter WHERE YOU GO, you ARE WHAT YOU ARE.  You can not escape it.  This is why total immersion will not work. 

You will miss the amenities you were accustomed to in your other world.  You will miss your family and it's traditions and customs.  You will even miss your drunk uncle.  If you choose the strategy of 100% immersion and denial of your gringo existence, the frustrations of "control alt deleting" many years of your settled ways will come back to haunt you.  You cannot simply come here and wash the Gringo or Yankee off of your body.  Believe it or not, most Native Ecuadorians would not expect you to either.

On the other hand, if you come to Ecuador and think you are going to start your own Little USA without contributing to the country, you are gravely mistaken.  I see the Chinese trying it right here from out my window, and they will fail also, if they don't learn the language and the customs.  The great news is that most of the Chinese I have met actually learned (or are trying to learn) Spanish.  I can not say the same for many of the gringos I have met.  Many of them are simply looking to huddle up with the other expats, search for English speaking dentists, doctors, lawyers, and everything else English to get anything accomplished.  That is fine and dandy when you just get here, but if you do not pick up the language and culture you will NOT survive more than 2 years.  You will find yourself lonely and in a state of depression mentally and financially from getting hit with those infamous "gringo prices".

So, with both strategies leaning to high chance of failure, WHAT DO YOU DO?

I propose that you meet in the middle.  Eat the hamburger at the restaurant that speaks English for dinner, but don't pass on the Yaguarlocro for lunch (More about Yaguarlocro here).  Buy that Rosetta Stone or take those Spanish Lessons, but don't forget what your family Christmas or Thanksgiving customs are.  Take a moment to make Ecuadorian friends and SHARE your customs with them as they will with you.  Ecuadorians do not bite, and despite what the State Department may tell you the majority of them are decent, intelligent, and happy to make friends.

I feel that if you approach Life in Ecuador with a strategy such as this, you will have a higher chance of being successful here.  All of the people I know who have made it here have made it through a conservative blend of invasion and immersion, and most of the people who have failed fell towards one extreme.

Carry this advice with a grain of salt, or like the golden ticket to enter Willy Wonka's factory.  I don't care.  But I assure you taking this perspective seriously will help in determining your quality of life here.